In December of 2018, recreational marijuana was made legal in Michigan. For the time being, it’s perfectly legal to grow and possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, as long as you’re age 21 or older, and not in the proximity of a school or on federal land. While this is good news for many state residents, it comes with strict implications.
Whether you’re a passenger or driver of a vehicle, smoking in a car is still illegal – even if you have no intention of driving afterwards. In short, marijuana is for home use only. You may possess marijuana paraphernalia or plants while driving, as long as they aren’t being consumed.
Smoking and driving
Some marijuana users may be under the impression that it’s safer to use than alcohol while driving, or that police don’t currently have a method for identifying a marijuana-impaired driver. These presumptions simply aren’t true.
Since marijuana often compromises one’s motor skills, judgment, and reaction time, driving under the influence of the drug can still result in an OWI charge.
Law enforcement may identify marijuana-impairment using some of the same methods used to identify drunk drivers. For example, someone driving under the influence of marijuana may display an inability to stay in his or her lane. Once law enforcement officers notice this, they’ll quickly pull over the driver and determine whether he or she is impaired.
Historically, police have administered field sobriety tests and blood tests. While blood tests may prove to be inaccurate since tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can stay in a driver’s system for weeks, other signs of impairment may be enough for police to make an arrest.
Michigan State Police have implemented a new method of identifying marijuana impairment through oral swabs and may expand on a pilot program that began in 2018. The program initially resulted in 92 drivers tested throughout five counties. Approximately 74 tested positive for THC; 63 of the oral positives were confirmed when paired with blood tests.
Out of the arrests made during this pilot program, 62 were originally prompted by traffic violations or displays of dangerous driving. An additional 27 were attributed to traffic accidents.
What are the penalties?
If you are arrested for driving while impaired by marijuana, you could be charged with operating while intoxicated (OWI) or operating while visibly impaired (OWVI), both of which carry harsh consequences.
First-time OWI offenders could face up to 93 days in jail, 360 hours of community service, a fine up to $500, a 30-day driver’s license suspension, an additional 150 days of license restrictions, and six points added to driving record.
First-time OWVI offenders could face some of the same consequences. Some penalties may be less severe, including a fine up to $300, 180 days of license restrictions, and four points added to your driving record.
If you are facing either of these charges, it’s best to consult with an experienced DUI defense attorney as soon as possible. Contact Board Certified Criminal Defense Attorney Michael P. Manley today to review your case and devise a solid defense.